But, God loves us and knows what he is doing

Lessons Learned

Dennis Moyers

       My three year old daughter was grunting, groaning, and sighing as she pushed open the car door the other day. She struggled across the curb -- a huge chasm to her -- and scrambled onto the lawn. With more huffing and puffing, she shut the door, then turned and sprinted up the slope of a big hill (a small dirt mound). She finally caught my hand and proudly beamed, "I can do that all by myself because I'm a big girl!"
       In her tiny exertions, God granted me a peek into the nature of human struggle. What were very simple tasks to me were enormous obstacles that my daughter took as immense accomplishments. From my perspective, she was putting on a good show of working hard at doing very little. From her perspective, barely three feet tall and all of thirty-four pounds, her efforts and achievements were tremendous. She put her entire weight into jobs that I could do with the flick of a wrist.
       She lacks my abilities, though she is as much a human being as me. I have grown up physically to the point where these major hurdles in life are but a small part of everyday things that I handle without even thinking. I remembered this while talking to a new believer in Sunday School the other day, who was bemoaning the uncertainties and tribulations of life. I couldn't help but think about the "show" that my daughter had put on, and it reminded me of the first times that I had tried to put the truths of Christianity to work in my own life:

Trust in the Lord and he will make your paths straight." (I hadn't even known they were crooked!)

"Abide in me and I will abide in you." (What is all this abiding business and how do you do it?)

"Come unto me, for my labor is easy, and my burden is light." (That's what you think!)

"...by the renewing of your mind...You will be able to test God's will..." (Test God? Isn't that a bit presumptuous?)

"Show me your faith and I will show you my faith by what I do..." (I don't know what I believe, much less if it is doing me or anybody else any good!)

       Some things we can do right away, but others, like tying our shoes, take a little longer. Some of us catch on really fast, but some of us struggle with each new concept, sometimes for years. All too often, those who catch on quicker than us are up in front calling us names, and impatiently running on. Then we become discouraged and wonder why we even bother trying, especially when our friends finally dump us because we aren't moving fast enough to suit them. We get bitter: "Well Mr. or Ms. high and mighty, who do you think you are to go and judge me like that?! Your life isn't so perfect, you know."
       This also is normal.
       This is when it is important to remember that we are saved by grace: God's unmerited favor. God wanted us and came looking for us. All we did when he came and presented himself to us was to say, "Yes, God, I want you too."
       So why do we get so concerned when somebody isn't living up to our standards? If his or her heart is in the right place, if he or she wants to know God more intimately, and if we are praying for them (OOPS), then why can't we just stand back and let God straighten them out? After all, he loves them a whole lot more than we do, in our self-righteousness.
       When we don't earnestly pray for others when they do something we disapprove of, then what right do we have bad-mouthing their behavior (have you checked yours lately)? If they have asked us to help them in their growth then we need to give it to them, but when it is not solicited, it might be best if we butted out and just prayed. If we prayed more and talked less, more problems might be solved.
       But how much more often are we like Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby, plopping in with both feet where we had no business going in the first place, so we end up getting trapped, but we're too proud to back out? Why do we do these things? Why is it that most of the time we're like little kids on the play ground with each other? "Nanny nanny poo poo, I can do better than you--oo!"
       We serve a just God and he will take care of his own; the ill-behaved youngsters are his children, not ours. When we open our mouths and start spouting off about the things that we have worked out with God for our lives and then try to force them upon someone else, we are acting as judge, jury, and executioner. Each of us must "work out his own salvation with fear and trembling before God." Each of us has a unique role to play; most of us must travel some very thorny paths to get to the place that God wants us to be. Usually we suffer because of our own stubbornness, but if we look at the tough times as growth spurts, then perhaps we can come out stronger in the end.
       Then we can feel pride like my little daughter overcoming the obstacles of her life: proud, not because we think we're better than anyone else, but proud because God has worked out these things in order to grow us into the creatures that he wants us to be.

The Complaint of Jacob        

The Complaint of Jacob by R.P. Nettelhorst

       Jacob’s life was not a particularly easy one and his family life, both growing up, and then as an adult was certainly what would fit the modern definition of being “dysfunctional.”
       So, to say the least, Jacob was not at all happy. The one true love of his life was dead. Joseph, his favorite, the oldest son of his beloved, had been dead for twenty-five years. And now Simeon had been taken from him, and this monster in Egypt was demanding the last link he had to his dead lover. Beside himself with grief, we find his reaction in Genesis 42:36 where it all comes down to this:

Their father Jacob said to them, "You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!"

       And certainly it was the case that the circumstances of his life, from his perspective, from the perspective of his sons standing around him, made his complaint fully reasonable and perfectly understandable. And yet, the fascinating thing about his words, for those of us reading the story, is that we know that he couldn’t be more wrong, despite the fact that his words seemed so obviously true to Jacob – unassailably true, in fact. But we the readers of this little episode, know something that Jacob doesn’t: we know that Joseph is not only not dead, but he is second in command in Egypt, the most powerful and most wealthy nation on the planet at that time. We also know that there’s no way for poor Jacob to know that.
       So the reality of Jacob’s existence is that everything could hardly be better. His favorite son has done very well for himself, thank you. Good job, and great future, with money to burn. Poor Jacob simply doesn’t know this yet. His perception, his perspective of reality, is incorrect.
       And we, the readers, can do nothing to alleviate Jacob’s suffering just now. And God didn’t do anything about it either. It’ll be another year before Jacob learns the truth of what his life is really like. For twenty-five years he mourned for someone who was not dead at all. He bemoans his fate as a miserable one, though his family is absolutely powerful and prosperous. But he doesn’t know any of that; in fact, he has no way of knowing any of that.
       September 11, 2001 was thus an exceptionally bad day (to say the least) and raised numerous questions in the minds of many people about the nature of existence, about the goodness of God, about what it is really, that God wants and expects out of all of us. How do we live in a world where this sort of thing can happen? How do we face the crises of life, both small and great? Is there some key to life, some playbook we can get, some list we can follow, some formula we can memorize that will get us through life in one piece, with ourselves and our families living productive and prosperous lives? What does Jacob's complaint tell us about our relationship to God and the world?

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John of the Apocalypse        

John of the Apocalypse by R.P. Nettelhorst

       If everything in your life went wrong, wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus came and told you why? “Why doesn’t God do something?” It was a question heavy on John’s mind. He had seen all his companions bleed and die; thousands of his compatriots had been slaughtered by a brutal tyranny. It seemed such an odd way for God to treat his most faithful servants. John was just a lonely old man exiled for his beliefs on the island of Patmos. And then Jesus unexpectedly showed up with good news and an explanation.

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